Floor of Sand, Roof of Water

From the new book Shorebreak. Photo: Clark Little
From the new book Shorebreak.
Photo: Clark Little

When I was a kid, I spent a lot of time (every possible minute) on the beaches of California. And one of my favorite activities was to run after the receding waves as far as I dared,, right up to where they were beginning another forward surge, and then turn and sprint back to safety. Or not, sometimes.

Getting away with nothing more than wet ankles counted as winning. Getting drenched or knocked over didn’t. Sure, it was a dangerous game. That’s what made it exciting.

One view I always wanted to see but never did (because I never dared or lost badly enough) was the dry sand beneath the roof of an oncoming wave. And here it is, courtesy of photographer Clark Little in his new book of waves, Shorebreak. Someone who dared to wait for the roof of water, and took a picture for the rest of us.

I worked as a translator on a film a few years ago that looked at the dry land beneath the waves, but in that case, the waves were frozen in icy forms. The film, Unter Dem Eis (Under the Ice) was a German-made documentary about the Inuit of the Canadian eastern seaboard and their tradition of gathering a bounty of winter mussels from beneath the frozen sea.

Gathering mussels Under The Ice, hastening before the sea returns. Source: Context Film
Gathering mussels Under The Ice, hastening before the sea returns.
Source: Context Film

The harvest was only possible for a few hours a year, on days of extremely low tide when the sea beneath the ice retreated enough to allow for a quick expedition.

It looks like walking under water, and in a way, it is. Or was. As the Atlantic Ocean warms and there are fewer days when mussels can be gathered without the ice roof collapsing, the tradition is fading.

Still, it’s a vision out of a dream, walking, or sprinting, on the floor of the ocean, however briefly.